How Good Is Your Primacy Effect?

Dec 16, 2013 1 Min Read

Why are some people listened to more than others? Why do some people give such a poor impression?

“First impressions are the most lasting,” goes the proverb. One of the most important things I have learned about the brain is the Primacy Effect.

The Primacy Effect is the psychological term for the very first impression you make, and other people make on you.

Research shows how quickly brains make initial formative judgments and, once made, how difficult they are to change.

Most of us don’t give this much thought, but where brains are concerned, you are what you are seen to be. A poor Primacy Effect can be disastrous to you, your life, and your career. The opposite is also true. The importance of this would be difficult to overstate.

Here is an example of how quick, powerful, and lasting the Primacy Effect is:

Two Harvard psychologists (Ambady and Rosenthal) did a particularly illuminating experiment. They were studying what makes teachers effective. Of particular interest was non-verbal cues, body language, and such.

A group was shown a mere 10-second video of a teacher teaching. No sound. No students visible. Just the teacher. Then the group was asked to rate the teacher on 15 qualities.

A second group was shown an even shorter five-second clip, and a third group a two-second clip. The ratings of the three groups were identical!

Here’s the kicker: These ratings were then compared to ratings made by the students of the same teacher after a whole semester of classes. The ratings were the same!

Complete strangers’ opinions of a teacher based on a silent, two-second video clip were the same as those who sat through a whole semester of classes.

It looks like we’ve got about two seconds to get it right. Only rarely does anything happen after the Primacy Effect to get brains to revise first impressions.The lesson here is to be mindful of our Primacy Effect and to work to make it stronger.

On a recent speaking trip to Europe I was chatting with my friend Poll Moussoulides about how important the Primacy Effect is in our work as professional speakers.

Moussoulides is a former actor and one of Europe’s most sought after vocal communication coaches and personal performance experts (

Moussoulides works with actors, TV personalities, leaders, speakers, and others. I’ve asked him to comment here on the Primacy Effect:

Smart Phones vs Smart People

“Last year I read research which revealed that smart phones are now outselling desktop computers and more than 57% of people in Japan are reading their e-mails only on their iPhone, Blackberry or Galaxy.

“The statistics showed that the United States, Canada and Europe are not far behind and very quickly heading the same way.

“As if there wasn’t enough pressure for us all to be competent public speakers, this research dramatically raises the stakes when it comes to how we use our brain, body and voice in our communications. It is now more essential than ever that we get it right and connect within diminishing windows of opportunity.

“The good news is that the research in neuroscience, positive psychology and emotional intelligence is more than matching the advances in digital technology.

“This means that we already have the information and resources to engage successfully with our contemporary audiences. We already have the insights as to how this decade’s teenager and adult will process and respond to our messages.

“When I am hired to work with clients from the commercial, education and governance sectors, I spend a lot of time on the powerful effects of Primacy and Recency.

“With my background in theater, film and television, it has always been clear that a good start and a good finish is essential for creating a lasting impact.

“However, with the excellent research in neuroscience, we now have the ability to influence in which part of our audience’s brain we would like our message to be stored – short term memory or long term memory.

“First impressions are most likely to last, and final impressions are most likely to generate behavioural responses in the present or near future. (Now you know why some TV commercials are more successful than others!)

“As a voice and personal performance specialist, it is always a pleasure to combine skills with Terry, and an absolute delight to acknowledge the huge improvements that are possible for our clients when maximising the greatest technology on the planet – themselves!

“One mind, one body, one voice. That’s all we get to last a lifetime. Make them work together, and together they will work for you.”

Congratulations on learning something about your brain today. The Brain Bulletin is committed to help to do just that.

You are a genius!

Terry Small is a brain expert who resides in Canada and believes that anyone can learn how to learn easier, better, faster, and that learning to learn is the most important skill a person can acquire. To interact with Small, email Click here for more brain bulletins. 

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This article is published by the editors of with the consent of the guest author. 

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